| Anneke's Dragon
Sam and Ben had been best friends since they were in pre-school. Marlee joined in at the beginning of last year and the three of them had their own little club the entire kindergarten year. Now, they were happy to learn they would have another fun year together in Ms. Stone’s first grade class.
Ms. Stone walked into the classroom and smiled at her new students. She was short for a grown-up but her voice was big and happy and always made the students excited about what she would say next. She was funny and everyone knew she did really fun crafts in her class. They couldn’t wait to find out what project they would do this year.
First, she had everyone raise their hand when she called their name. Sam knew almost everyone’s name but there was one girl he had never seen. The teacher said a name he didn’t understand and she raised her hand just up to her ears like her arms didn’t stretch high enough. She didn’t say “here” or “present” like the rest of the class. She sat by herself and didn't say anything.
Ms. Stone showed them some pictures of some floats. She explained that these aren’t the kind of floats with soda and ice cream. They are like puppets on cars and carried by people as they line up in a parade. This would be their project. “Please get in groups of four and sit with your group. You have two minutes.” Ms. Stone turned an egg looking timer and put it on her desk.
Sam, Marlee and Ben were talking and didn’t see that everyone else had already finished getting in their groups. The new girl was still sitting by herself. Sam saw her and thought she looked like she needed some friends.
“We only have three in our group, do you want to work with us?” Sam asked just as Marlee kicked him under the table. Sometimes she says she won’t be his friend if he doesn’t do what she wants. Sam didn’t want to lose his friend but he also didn’t want to be rude to the new girl.
The new girl walked slowly to their table. She sat down and looked at her shiny black shoes. Her hair was straight and bright yellow. The lights in the classroom made her look like she had a halo on her head. Sam thought she looked like she was from somewhere else a long way away. He looked at Marlee with squinty eyes and said, “Our float will be the best, won’t it Marlee?” She smiled showing all her teeth except the one she just lost on the top.
The egg shaped buzzer rang and Ms. Stone told the class they would get to choose the animal or design for their float and then get to build it in their groups. Ms. Stone held up a medal on a ribbon and told them there would be an award for the best float in each grade. "This is going to be so fun," Ben whispered to his friends. "We better win!," Marlee added as she sneered at Sam. "Let me guess, if we don't win you won't be our friend anymore, right?" Sam said in the same sarcastic voice.
Ms. Stone asked everyone to draw a picture of the float they want to build. Then the group will vote on which picture to use as the model float for the whole group. She showed them a huge box of fabric scraps. Sam saw every color and pattern in the whole wide world. He saw neon green, sunshine yellow, polka dotted, striped, and so many other designs he got tired trying to name them. She even had little jars of glitter, sequins, buttons and ribbon. Each table had a cup of markers, colored pencils, scissors, and rulers. Sam decided Ms. Stone really is the best teacher in the whole world.
Ben and Marlee started drawing pictures right away. Sam didn’t think he was very good at drawing even though he loved looking at all the colors. He started looking around his table to get some ideas. Ben was drawing a green monster with a wide, flat pig nose, big fuzzy green eyebrows and three legs. Marlee was drawing a giant orange flower with a thick green stem. The new girl was drawing something yellow and red that looked like a dragon.
Wow, he thought, she was really good at drawing. He started drawing his picture but knew her drawing was the one. He decided to draw something he could see in his mind because he couldn't think of something that would make a good float. Anyway, he wanted Anneke to win. He also wanted his friends to like her so he could be her friend without Marlee getting mad at him.
“Hey, what is your name again?” Sam whispered to the new girl. She shook her head and then wrote some words on the corner of her paper and showed them to him. He tried to read it “Anneke” but didn’t know how to sound it out. He asked her to tell him and she whispered “Ah-nee-ka”. He said it again to make sure he heard it right and she smiled at him.
He was about to ask her where she was from but Ms. Stone looked at him. It was one of those “I hear you so you might want to quit talking” looks. Even Marlee rolled her eyes at him and she always gets in trouble for talking. He looked down and worked quietly on his picture again. It was a yellow dog with floppy ears and its tongue hanging out, just like his golden retriever at home.
Ms. Stone told them all to pass their pictures around so each other so the group could decide which design would become the model for their float. Marlee wanted her picture to be chosen. Ben and Sam didn’t really care about theirs because Anneke’s was so good. Marlee was getting mad and a little bit jealous of the new girl and had her arms crossed in front of her shirt. That was when Anneke said, “I have an idea, let me see your pictures.”
She got her eraser and the colored pencils and added a green monster nose and bushy eyebrows from Ben’s picture, changed the red to orange stripes on her dragon for Marlee because she loves orange, and put big floppy ears and a long tongue hanging out like in Sam’s picture. She passed her picture around again. Marlee blew air out of her mouth in a huge sigh and said a quick “fine, whatever.”
Sam and Ben were glad Anneke was in their group. They had the best picture of the class and could not wait to make the float. They would get to start making it in seven long days. Sam noticed that Anneke talked more when they were drawing but when they finished, she got all shy again and hugged herself with her little red sweater with the school patch on it. It wasn’t cold in the room but she liked that sweater a lot, he thought.
All that first week, Sam tried to get to know Anneke despite Marlee making fun of him for liking her. He didn’t “like her” that way, he was just curious about where Anneke came from because she talked funny. She told him she lived in a city called Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She just moved here right before school started when her dad got a new job. Sam was amazed she knew English so well. She told him everyone there knows English but she still had some trouble understanding people when they talked too fast. He told her he would talk slower and she thanked him.
Marlee didn’t want to talk slower because she didn’t want Sam and Ben to like Anneke because, maybe, they would like her less. Marlee made fun of her clothes and the way she talked. Ben talked about her with Marlee but did not want to hurt Anneke's feelings by being mean to her face. He just wanted to be popular like Marlee. Sam didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to lose Ben and Marlee but he wanted to be Anneke’s friend too. It was a long week before the day they would make their floats and Sam hoped he could get Marlee to like Anneke.
The day before they were to make the floats, Ms. Stone asked Anneke to tell the class about where she came from. She brought pictures of amazing colors swirling around the pages and bright flowers. She said the artist was from her country. His name was Vincent Van Gogh. Anneke brought a stack of postcards and passed them out to all the kids in the class.
She gave Sam the one called "Starry Night" because he loved the bright colors in her picture. She gave Ben the "Self-Portrait" of Van Gogh with a bandage on his ear because Ben liked pictures that were gross and was amazed that someone could actually cut off their own ear. Then she handed Marlee the picture called "Sunflowers". She said it was because Marlee loved orange flowers and they looked yellowish-orange. Marlee tried not to like her but Sam could tell she was kind of impressed.
The next day was the one all the children were looking forward to. They bounded into the room and sat in their groups, waiting for Ms. Stone to tell them they could start. But where was Anneke? Ms. Stone announced that Anneke had to have her tonsils out that very morning and would not be at school for a whole week. The school parade was going to happen before she returned to school. Sam, Ben and Marlee looked around to each other, wondering what they would do without their artist.
Marlee got what she wanted. Their little threesome was back and they could do whatever they wanted with their float. Except, that wasn’t what Marlee wanted anymore. Sam thought it was funny that just last week, they were happy being the “Marlee, Sam and Ben Show” and now they felt like there was a missing piece in their little puzzle. They decided to give a gift back to Anneke.
Marlee searched the box for the longest and brightest yellow piece of fabric. It was longer than all three of them put together. Ben found some orange strips of fuzzy fabric long enough to cut stripes in it. Ben found some mossy green felt for eyebrows and the big nose, and even found a long pink strip of ribbon for a tongue. Marlee found a tangle of ribbon to use for the end of the tail and a little red yarn ribbon to tie to the end just for Anneke, because it looked like her red sweater.
They worked together quietly, cutting and gluing until they had finished making the best, funniest, scariest, weirdest looking Dragopigtriever and it looked just like Anneke’s drawing. All three were so proud of their float. They couldn’t wait to show Anneke. They all wished she could be there for the parade, especially when they tried out their float by standing underneath it.
Marlee was in front because she was the tallest. Sam was next because he was second tallest. Ben was the shortest but he couldn’t decide where to stand. If he was too close to the end of the tail, the creature’s back looked broken in the middle. If he was further toward the front, the tail dragged and it looked more like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, not a Dragopigtriever. What they really needed was one more kid, a little taller than Ben and a little shorter than Sam. And they all knew who it should be.
Sam had an idea. He asked Ms. Stone something when no one else was in the room. She smiled and told him she would help him with his plan and to trust her. He hoped his idea would work but wanted it to be a surprise. His secret wanted to jump out all the way home. Ben’s father drove all three of them home after school. Sam was trying so hard not to spill the beans, which is what people say when someone blurts out what they are supposed to be keeping a secret.
The next morning, all the kids in school were whispering and giggling. Excitement could be felt up and down the halls. This was the day no one had to wear uniforms because of the parade. They didn’t have schoolwork either, which was almost the best part. Sam looked around but didn’t see what Ms. Stone planned to do about his idea. His class was second, after the kindergarten class and he was starting to get worried. Ben and Marlee were looking around the room too, trying to think of a way to work their Dragopigtriever so that it wouldn’t look broken or crooked on top.
Just when they all got in their places under their floats, everyone looked toward the door of the gym. Ms. Stone was walking toward Sam, Ben and Marlee and behind her stood their missing piece wearing a huge grin on her face. Ben backed up and took the rear of the float to make room for Anneke. Marlee smiled and said, “Hey Anneke, we saved you a spot. The Dragopigtriever just wouldn’t have looked perfect without you.” Ben and Sam looked at each other and smiled. For Marlee, that was a huge compliment. Marlee smiled at them too. She knew their friendship would never be the same again. It would be so much better, as long as Anneke was there too.
At the end of the parade, Sam, Marlee, Ben and Anneke stood side by side on the stage and accepted their medals for having the best float in the First Grade. They all knew they owed it to Anneke because she found a way to put a little of each of them into that one float and that was what made it the best of the show; the new and improved Ben, Anneke, Marlee and Sam Show.
This story is targeted toward kindergarten to first graders to be read by their parents or with help from parents.